Is Government Really That Unpopular? The Truth is Complicated….

There was an interesting story on Govexec.com on August 16, 2016 regarding a new Gallup poll that showed that the US government is the least popular of any major industry in the US. The poll listed the restaurant and computer industries as the most popular, with 66% total positive views. The restaurant industry also had the lowest negatives at 7%, with the computer industry slightly higher at 13% negative. The US government came in last on positive ratings – tied with the pharmaceutical industry at 28% positive. The three largest percentages of negative ratings were the government at 55%, pharmaceuticals at 51% and the healthcare industry at 54%.

Those numbers are not a great showing for the US government, but do they really tell the whole story? Of course not. Let’s start with the specious comparison of the United States government to the restaurant, computer or any other industry. Does Burger King withhold money from your paycheck? No. Does Apple? No. No industry in this poll has the kind of power over the everyday lives of Americans that the government exercises. No industry has a responsibility to defend the US, the promote its economy, to pass and enforce laws, or anything else. For the most part, the comparison is meaningless and serves no useful purpose.

Pew Agencies-1

Beyond Distrust: How Americans View Their Government, Pew Research Center, Washington, DC (2015) http://www.people-press.org/2015/11/23/beyond-distrust-how-americans-view-their-government/

The other problem with the poll is that it ignores the fact that the government is a massive entity with many component parts. When we look at those parts we find widely differing views about it. For example, an excellent Pew Research Center study in 2015 showed a high degree of negativity about government, but also areas where government was doing very well. Pew, a respected nonpartisan, nonprofit “Fact Tank,” said “just 19% say they can trust the government always or most of the time, among the lowest levels in the past half-century. Only 20% would describe government programs as being well-run. And elected officials are held in such low regard that 55% of the public says “ordinary Americans” would do a better job of solving national problems.” They also found that 74% said political leaders put their own interests ahead of those of the people.

Those numbers seem to align with the Gallup findings, but Pew dug much deeper and found that the story is far more complex than some click-worthy top line numbers might indicate. Yes – Americans have some very negative views of their government, but they also believe government must play a major role in our society. They want the government to keep us safe from terror, respond to natural disasters, manage immigration, strengthen the economy, and perform many other vital tasks.

In addition to believing the federal government must perform those tasks, they also gave high marks for performance in many of them. More than 70% believe government is doing a good or somewhat good job on responding to natural disasters, ensuring safe food and medicine, and setting workplace standards. High numbers also approved of government’s performance in protecting the environment, ensuring access to quality education, and ensuring basic income for senior citizens.

Pew also asked about specific agencies and found 84% had a favorable view of the Postal Service, the National Park Service had a 75% favorable rating, and the Centers for Disease Control and NASA came in at 71% and 70%, respectively. In fact, agencies representing the vast majority of the government came in at better than 50% approval.

Those numbers and the agencies they represent do not sound like an organization that should be compared to a restaurant or a computer manufacturer or service.

Pew also looked at views of elected officials and found they were not particularly popular. They were viewed as less honest and more selfish than typical americans or business leaders. Congress had a meager 27% favorable rating. The political parties do not fare much better, with the Democrats at 45% and the Republicans at 32%.

The Pew report has much more data and I highly recommend reading it if you want to know a lot more about how government and its many components are viewed. The data is fascinating and tells a complex story.

 

 

Average Time to Fill: Possibly the Worst HR Measure Ever

imageMost of us in the HR world have worshipped at the altar of “time to fill” for many years. We use/d it as a proxy for everything we wanted to make better in HR, particularly the hiring process. The idea was that getting the average time to fill down to a good number (whatever that was arbitrarily determined to be) would mean we were doing a good job with hiring. It would make applicants more interested in applying for jobs in our agencies, send the message to HR staff and customers that HR was responsive, and generally raise the level of performance in HR. I have to admit I used it for years.

Looking at it as someone who is not in the HR trenches anymore, I have concluded that it started out as a good idea, but like many things good ideas in government, over time it has become a caricature of itself. Rather than driving real performance, it often provides an excuse for just the opposite.

Let’s look at the typical 80–day hiring model as an example. Is 80 days a good target for filling jobs? No. For most jobs it is far too slow. For some jobs it is far too fast. There may be a few jobs for which it makes sense. The fact that the target is the same for every job is a big part of the problem. The truth is that the time it takes to fill a job varies from one position to another. The use of average fill times is another part of the problem. If I fill three jobs in an average of 80 days, you do not know how long it really took. I could be that one took 160 days and two took 40 days. If you are the hiring manager or applicant involved in the 160 day case, you are probably unimpressed when I tout my 80–day average.

If we really want to improve the hiring process, we need to move away from one-size-fits-all metrics into measures that are tailored to the type of jobs we are filling. Tailored metrics can tell us how we are really doing – metrics like the 80–day measure tell us nothing. If the job is simple, is filled often, has an abundance of candidates, and does not require a security clearance, it should be filled within 30 days or less. If it is a Secret Service Agent who requires a TS-SCI clearance and has to go through an Academy training program (that is scheduled well in advance), it may be that 9 months is a reasonable time. If we are filling one job, it may take much less time than when we fill 100 jobs. If we are hiring newly graduated students, we might make an offer 6 months to a year in advance. Does the HR office fail when it makes an offer a year in advance and adds 365 days to its time-to-fill? Of course not.

Once we get rid of generic time-to-fill metrics, we can determine how well the hiring process meets targets that make sense. It is critical to remember though that time-to fill measures responsiveness, but it does not say anything about the quality of the hiring process. We could be hiring great candidates or bad ones. When we hire great candidates, we could be misrepresenting the job in the vacancy announcement and turning them off because what they applied and were selected for is not what they thought they were getting. Unless we add a quality measure to the mix, we have no clue whether we get good results or not. That means every agency needs a quality of hires metric as well. Such a metric can be determined by a post-hiring survey that goes to the hiring manager and the selectee a few months after the employee reports to the new job. The hiring manager can be asked how the process went and how the new employee is doing. The new employee is asked how the job matches up to the vacancy announcement and their satisfaction with it. Both can be asked about improvements to the process.

A combination of job-specific time-to-fill targets and post-hiring quality metrics is absolutely essential if we want to improve the hiring process. Absent that, we are left with meaningless targets that tell us nothing, enable nothing, and change nothing. Making this type of change does not require legislation, new regulations, or any other bureaucratic steps. It is simply good management and can be implemented now.

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